The Picture of @robfmac

“I am tired of myself tonight. I should like to be somebody else.”

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

 

“Are you gone and onto someone new?

I needed somewhere to hang my head

Without your noose

You gave me something that I didn’t have

But had no use…”

Foo Fighters – Best of You.

 

My reason for writing is to seek catharsis through doing so. My reason for publishing is that it’s possible that one person who reads this will go on to seek help and support.

If you are that person, please see a GP or confide in someone you trust. If you receive a message from someone seeking that help – just being there for them will do so much to help.

This is my truth but I can only tell it since I have sought and received help. Failing to do so for so long meant that I had an almost complete mental and physical collapse. I was the proverbial frog in boiling water – doing nothing as the temperature rose. Indeed, apathy was one of the defining characteristics that became part of my identity.

This blogpost is not and never will be the whole truth. I’m showing you the picture in the attic – not that of my soul. I reveal some of my symptoms but few of my stressors.

This is as it should be – because the factors that brought about my depression are unique to me and are more complex than would fit here. I will say this though – one thing I have been plagued by is a constant strive for perfection – and a constant feeling of failing to achieve it.

Please excuse the inconsistent timelines – they’ve been used to fit the Star Wars narrative.

 

Episode I – The Phantom Menace

As last year developed and continued, what seemed like a cloud descended around me. It had descended before towards the end of 2009. At that time I was in denial that it was depression. My sick-note simply said: “debility”.

I took a few weeks off after a colleague who had watched me decline, confronted me in the corridor outside my classroom and bluntly told me: “You’re not well, you need to go home.” I didn’t. Not long after though I reached the same conclusion as I switched off my alarm a morning or two later and said to myself: “I can’t do this anymore.”

Upon my return the only real thing that had changed was that I was now able to access some counselling via my GP. This was useful and for it I was extremely grateful as it played a part in helping me get ‘better’.

Following my return to work I found an outlet in a dramatic increase in my trade union involvement. This gave me fog lights and despite the cloud not being too far away, I was at that time comfortable in ignoring it.

 

Episode II – Attack of the Clones

And why wouldn’t I? I was always predisposed to being moody and relatively content at being alone even in a crowd. I was never really part of the ‘in-crowd’ anyway nor first on any team sheet.

This routine moodiness enabled me to hide my condition from myself. It was simply put down to my natural process of being up or down at any given time. I didn’t notice that the dips would get deeper and deeper; it was just another dip, a clone of the last one and of the next. In my denial they were isolated incidents unconnected to one other.

 

Episode III – Revenge of the Symptoms

Despite being busy and remaining mostly optimistic. I noticed after the event that I was more prone to making  decisions that were irrational. This might mean doing something that was in hindsight flippant, stupid or worse.

I was spending less time in school as my trade union duties increased. Or rather, I was spending more and more time focussing on big pictures and small policy details but at times failing to then follow this through into my practice in school.

I was more-frequently withdrawn and short-tempered, though conversely I could be more outwardly confident and cool. Things were looking up. I had a wonderful family and was elected as SSTA Vice-President and Fife District Secretary – Go me!

 

Episode IV – A New Hope

I have been blessed by the arrival in my life of two beautiful daughters. Although these small people meant more demands on time they brought many a burst of positivity.

Often in the past I have been at my most creative in the dead of night. Having a wee person or two to cuddle in or soothe, or simply to be awake whilst my wife did could mean that disparate ideas would gel or a corner could be turned. All too often again, these would be reserved for things outwith the day to day. Attending to the problems of others meant escaping from my own. Contribute to a group on the GTCS Standards? Sure thing! Aid the understanding of my colleagues of these standards? Let me get back to you.

I was living many lives depending on their function and with few instances of overlap. I was a jack of all trades and increasingly a master of none. All the while I was giving my attention to the things that interested me to the detriment of others. As a trade unionist my admin was flawless, as a teacher and person it was less so. The prism I was seeing things through now was the tasks associated with the children. These nappies are awful but the laughter and smiles are worth it. Little did I realise that the stench from my incomplete or ignored tasks was growing.

 

Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

I withdrew from real life into social media and the withdrew my attention into my own head. Far, far easier to tweet, post and like than engage in real life. I can switch off my notifications, dim my screen or close the MacBook lid. I cannot shut you up but I can avoid you by taking a different route or hiding away behind a closed door or on a wander through the corridors. Why deal with a boring admin task that is about accountability not education when you can be hands-on helping a colleague with an issue? Why off-load your own troubles when you spend time being the shoulder to cry on for others? Why deal with what’s in front of me when I have email to check?

What became easier over time was to cloak my hyper-criticism of myself by deflecting criticism onto others. How dare you criticise me for being the thing that you are to me! I have criticised others with sarcasm that would cut them into pieces – though not to their faces of course. Yet if you add up every snide thought, remark or gossip and multiply them – they would come nowhere near the self-criticism I gave myself. The grey fog on my horizon was in fact a black dog on my shoulder all along. Its bite made wounds that were far, far deeper and more harmful than my sarcasm could ever be.

A long-standing curse I have is being able to pigeon-hole emotions or simply fail to register an emotional response. Emotions would not float around my consciousness for long anyway. More often than I can remember on hearing news, or witnessing something my reaction was…nothing. Things that were once hilarious or alarming left me cold. This also had the effect on me of not being consciously ‘stressed’.

At times I had little consideration for my impact on others. Why would you even think about doing THAT? No idea.

To those people whom I hurt; to those that I criticised; to those at whom I radiated indifference or worse, I am genuinely and deeply sorry. Whilst off work I found a note made during my last absence. It described my then symptoms and stressors and fitted almost exactly what I would have written in 2016. If I had known or admitted in 2010 that it was depression and had I sought the help I now have, I may have been far, far less likely to abuse either your trust, respect, position or friendship.

As the autumn of last year wore on, things got worse. My most common state was apathy. I would consider all the things that I had to do, all the deadlines that I had to meet and would then, do nothing. I would think about the potential consequences of this – and still, do nothing. Deadlines came and went. Regrets came and stayed. I went from someone who under-promised and over-delivered to doing the exact opposite.

It got more and more difficult to get out of bed in the morning. Several alarms were set and one at a time were switched off. Delayed rising meant no breakfast. Panicked task completion at a break or a lunchtime meant little food during the day and the stress of this often meant little to eat at night  too. I made up for this with confectionary but my weight was falling as was my mood.

A now-flawed perfectionism enveloped me. Unless it was perfect it was not good enough to proceed. Many projects and ideas stayed on metaphorical shelves because to do X, required Y – but to do Y required Z and so on it would loop in my mind. Worse still, I could now see flaws in everything and anything. Each interaction, each comment, each task, each everything could (and should) have been done better. For this same reason I felt helpless to change. Such apathy would lead to powerful feelings of guilt but would only result in more inaction and so on…

More and more I escaped into social media and one tweet at a time managed on the whole to stay camouflaged as a normal person. It seemed to be a safe world for me.

I completed an online self-test in November for depression and obtained a score that suggested I go and see a GP. Of course, I did nothing other than capture a screenshot of the result.

Fast forward to February…More apathy but worse still, an increasing feeling that I was unable to trust anyone around me. This added to the challenge of not being able to offload meant more and more pressure. I lost 4 kg in 10 days. Another depression self-test and finally the penny dropped.

I went to see my GP, was medicated and signed off – but only after agonising for a weekend on wether or not I should. Once I had done so I was now determined that I would be frank and honest and admitted publicly and freely for the first time that I was suffering from depression.

One of the questions I have been asked concerns any potential for self-harm or suicide. My response was that my apathy and general state of ‘meh’ meant that if I was at risk, I was unlikely to do anything as I couldn’t be bothered.

In this I am fortunate. Many of the people whose story I am now familiar with have not been so lucky. The depth of their depression has either meant an addiction has blossomed or a harm has been induced.

 

Episode VI – Return of the Jedi 

“Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.

Well, now they know.

Let it go.”

Queen Elsa, Frozen

 

Out in the open I have now accessed support. People have confided in me that they too suffered from depression or have done in the past. They gave advice and I was able to form a camaraderie of pain with them.

I opened up with ease to counsellors, friends and online connections. A bridge had been crossed into a different world in which I was able to be honest with myself.

For the first time in my life I am medicated.

Yet, there are still ups and downs. Progress is inconsistent. I have taken more time off of my work than I would have imagined would be the case. I am better and improving. I have specific goals to achieve and specific steps of support in taking them.

I have always been self-critical but am less inclined to punish myself for mistakes (having redrafted this blog to reflect it) and more inclined to credit myself for things that have gone well…maybe.

I can now acknowledge the roles that each of my stressors have played in my illness as well as the relative impact of them.

From my introspection, I sense that all I have achieved in the last decade and more I have done so without 100% attention or effort. I have lacked focus and commitment especially in looking after myself and those closest to me. I admit though that self-criticism can still stifle self-awareness.

Yet the support I have access to has been invaluable in making me whole again. This journey is still in its infancy and may never be finished yet I feel stronger.

It cannot be left unsaid that my greatest debt is owed to my wife and daughters. They have suffered from my depression as much as if not more than I have. But for them I would not be here to write these lines. Thanks to them, I am. However my greatest regret is that even when I have been with them, I may not have been really there.

 

Episode VII – The Force Awakens

“If you can remember why you started, then you will know why you must continue.”

Chris Burkmenn

 

Through my depression I even lost interest in the news – despite it being a huge part of me and a huge reason why I am a teacher.  Yet this has returned. I only wish it wasn’t prompted by the mess all around us.

The best of me is yet to come and what’s more, I get to make it. Quite how I will get there I don’t yet know but the tools are all in place. My need now is to see how they all fit together and then be in a position to achieve something approaching my potential.

Perhaps I can play a role in sorting out that mess, or rather in facilitating a new generation of young people to take the power that belongs to them to make their world a better place.

That’s why I tweet.

That’s why I blog.

That’s why I lead.

That’s why I manage.

That’s why I teach.

 

 

“I’ve got another confession my friend

I’m no fool

I’m getting tired of starting again

Somewhere new

Were you born to resist or be abused?

I swear I’ll never give in

I refuse

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?”

Foo Fighters – Best of You

 

If you need help, please seek it. Online information, support and advice can be found at:

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/depression/Pages/Introduction.aspx

http://www.moodcafe.co.uk

http://www.depressionalliance.org

https://moodgym.anu.edu.au/welcome

https://www.samh.org.uk

If you are a young person and either you or a friend may be suffering from any mental health issue, go to: http://young.scot/aye-mind/

 

I am no longer tired of myself tonight. I wouldn’t like to be anyone else. My desire for perfection will remain, my determination to achieve it will return. The innovation will be taking the steps to do so. What will guide me now is this:

http://goodfuckingdesignadvice.com/pages/pledge

 

“The only power worth snot is the power to get up after you fall down.”

Wolverine in Ms Marvel Vol 3 #7

 

 

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